January 19, 2006
On the 19th I had an hour before I had to be at my first meeting.
I went into the Acela Club, poured a cup of coffee, and started
watching CNN while organizing my day.
President Bush was making an appearance. I had barely noted
he was on the air when CNN broke away to announce a new audio
tape had been released by Osama Bin Laden. There were the
usual disclaimers: authenticity not yet verified; no knowledge
of when or where it was recorded. However, the possibility
of a tape from Osama Bin Laden rushed George off stage.
It promised new attacks on America, informing us the reason
we had not experienced another 9/11 was not that we had enhanced
our security [if you believe some sources our security is
being organized by Keystone Cops] but that these things take
time to get organized. Still, somewhere in the vitriol were
some words of truce, a chance to talk about securing Afghanistan
and Iraq, to move away from the bloodshed.
This last week I viewed a rough cut of an upcoming HBO documentary
produced by my friends Jon Alpert and Matthew ONeill.
The working title is BAGHDAD ER.
It chronicles 12 weeks Matt and Jon spent at the major trauma
center in Baghdad. This is the place the wounded are medi-vaced
by Blackhawk helicopters in the extraordinary efforts being
made to save lives in this theatre of war.
The program is unbearably good. These two men have done an
extraordinary job of capturing the drama and trauma of Iraq.
>From sweeping through the night to the rush to the trauma
center, this is the closest I want to get to the experience
It was hard for me to watch. I found myself squirming in
my seat, wanting to do anything rather than watch.
In watching the caregivers, I was proud of them, proud to
be from the same country. With extraordinary professionalism
they endured twelve hour days, seven days a week, constantly
seeing blood, pain, death and the grief of soldiers who survive
and find out someone else from their unit did not.
There is a glimpse of a man who has lost both his arms; staring
into a future he cannot imagine. Two soldiers, survivors,
after being tended and stabilized, reached out and held each
as they cried for their comrade who had not survived the IED
that had destroyed their vehicle.
IED, Improvised Explosive Devices, the demon device of this
war does enormous damage both to the vehicles and to the bodies
of our soldiers.
Whether or not you agree with this war, these wonderful individuals
are our soldiers and they are there because our government
has determined they should be there. In being there they are
enduring great risk and sometimes find only pain for good
intentions. A soldier was shot while handing out candy to
Iraqi children. With amazing good humor, when asked if he
had shot the man who had shot him, he laughed and said through
the pain: No, Sir, I was too busy on the ground screaming
With daring and almost reckless bravado Black Hawks swoop
through the unfriendly skies to scoop up the wounded, American
and Iraqi, and fly them back while desperately working to
prevent their deaths, to keep them breathing, to keep them
from bleeding to death, to preserve them.
So today when I heard Osama might be holding out an olive
branch, I found myself wondering if our government would engage
in conversation. I doubt it. We will one day have to talk,
just as we eventually had to speak with the North Vietnamese,
because without talking there will be no peace.
Watching BAGHDAD ER, I hoped for peace sooner than later.
I dont want in another year to see another documentary
about saving our soldiers, or think about how wonderful the
doctors were in patching torn bodies. I would like to see
a time when doctors were needed for other things than countering
the trauma of IEDs and bullets.